Sunday, April 10, 2005

The 'Man' Date

This article is quite possibly the dumbest thing I've ever read: the NY Times reported today a phenomenon which they dub 'the Man Date' (registration required). What it is, according to reporter Jennifer Lee, is the awkward, unmanly 'dates' that straight men go on, and Lee actually goes so far as to divide men into 'Man Daters' and 'non-Man Daters'. The whole article is basically a lesson in the insecurity of straight men, a desperate reaffirmation of dumb gender stereotypes, and the thinly concealed homophobia that lead men to overcompensate by acting more 'manly'.

Anyone who finds a date with a potential romantic partner to be a minefield of unspoken rules should consider the man date, a rendezvous between two straight men that is even more socially perilous. Simply defined a man date is two heterosexual men socializing without the crutch of business or sports. It is two guys meeting for the kind of outing a straight man might reasonably arrange with a woman. Dining together across a table without the aid of a television is a man date; eating at a bar is not. Taking a walk in the park together is a man date; going for a jog is not. Attending the movie "Friday Night Lights" is a man date, but going to see the Jets play is definitely not.
It's hard for me to imagine what could possibly be amusing or respectable about this so-called phenomenon. First of all, what's wrong with two men enjoying dinner in a candlelit restaurant? When I see two men enjoying an art gallery or eating out without a beerstein in one hand and a fried buffalo wing in the other, I don't automatically think that these two men are gay -- it's like the article is trying to say that the increased visibility of gay men has somehow pre-empted male interaction. Just because I know that homosexuality exists doesn't mean that now I wonder if everyone is gay. Frankly, I don't know anyone who is actually looking around wasting their time wondering if people seated around them are gay just because they're not watching football; the only people who care or even spend the time noticing are the men themselves, and their own insecurity. Secondly, I take great offense to the gender roles that are perpetuated by this article. According to this article, one would have to believe that straight men are only manly when drinking beer, eating greasy food, and flatulating for one another. You know what happens when we reinforce these gender role stereotypes? We devolve both genders into one-dimensional caricatures that benefit neither gender. If men are the dirty self-scratching belchers, then women are the neat, prissy, overly emotional ones. That's not a far cry from the 1950's stuff in which men are the breadwinners and women are the childbearers. After all, the article writes:
And man dates should always be Dutch treat, men agree. Armen Meyer, 28, a lawyer in New York who is an unabashed man dater, remembers when he tried to pay for dinner for a friend. "I just plopped out the money and didn't even think about it," Mr. Meyer said. "He said, 'What are you doing?' And I'm like: 'I was going to pay. What's the big deal?' And he said something like, 'Guys don't pay for me,' or 'No one pays for me.' There was a certain slight power issue."
Finally, the article is unflinchingly heterosexist. The homophobia aside (as if there's something wrong with people mistaking your sexuality every once in awhile), the article assumes that there's something abnormal about homophobia, and to try to act straight is to try and act normal. Nonetheless, I suggest reading the article, if only for the sheer inanity of it all. After all, who would've thought that going to a movie with a male friend was only acceptable if you sit with one seat between you, and going to a prissy Italian restaurant is 'off' but going to a steakhouse is okay? The Outback Steakhouse tagline should read 'Guaranteed to guarantee your manhood to all the people you think are watching but are really too busy eating their own steaks to care.' Update (04/11/05): Blogger Hugo Schwyzeralso talks about the 'Man Date' article. While I wouldn't describe him as either homophobic or insecure from his blog (which is usually a great read), I'm disappointed to find that he doesn't really describe why the what I would describe as paranoid insecurity exists between straight men in a date-like setting? It still seems silly to me that one would care if your friend or those seated around you might think you're gay -- if you are or your not, your comfort in your own sexuality shouldn't be contingent upon what others might erroneously assume about you.


Anonymous unfurling said...

they may be applying strange stereotypes and prejudice to the concept, but they have put their finger on an awkwardness that DOES exist.

I recently split with a long term partner and was very sad. My male friends are all nice and wanted to be supportive. They invited me out for one on one drinks in order to talk it through, unload, whatever. These meetings were unusual and a little awkward: We just don't really do this sort of thing.

I think in this case it was awkward because most modern men feel obliged to project membership of the 'I'm OK, you're OK' club. And in this case, the illusion was stripped away. I wasn't OK, so the very foundations of my male-male friendships were undermined.

In fact rather than write more on your blog, Im going to write about this on my own.

Thanks for the spur!

4/10/2005 05:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for mocking this ridiculous article, Jenn. I happened to see it in the Times yesterday and jumped on the Internet to see if someone was attacking it at the earliest opportunity. As a straight man, I've got to say it was like reading about creatures from another planet...The other one you posted was hilariously awful too. Whose paying people to write these ridiculous pieces of pop sociology?

4/11/2005 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Thanks, anonymous, although I think Rox Populi should get the credit for finding the second article.

Unfurling mentions that the phenomenon is a real one, but I think it's hardly as ingrained a phenomenon as this article tries to make it out to be. I think this is what happens when editors sacrifice real sociological research to try and make articles more 'sexy' and accessible.

4/11/2005 03:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The article showed the homophobia that does exist with a lot of guys, especially uptight east-coasters, and it generated a lot of discussion, so I can't fault the writer for doing that.

I go on man dates with my friends all the time, and I don't feel weird about it. If you like girls, you like girls, and sharing a bottle of wine with a guy isn't going to change that. Unless it's a really lonely night. Actually, sometimes my friends say they feel uncomfortable with hanging out with me one on one, but maybe it's because they're bi-curious or something. I don't know.

By the way, I love angry little asian girl. I'm assuming you're the creator, right? I saw you on PBS and they made you look much weirder than I'm sure you really are. Freaking editors.


4/17/2005 01:19:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

oh god no, i'm not the creator of ALAG... I *wish* though. It's a great comic.

But, I sort of came up with the 'angry little asian girl' thing independent of the comic creator. So I keep it just to confuse people. :p

4/20/2005 04:19:00 PM  

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